According to recent studies (read about one covered by Inc here), people who take frequent breaks get more done with more focus during their work time (recommended in one-hour stints) than those who worked for longer than an hour with no breaks. In other words: people who take several short breaks throughout the day are more productive than those who don’t take as many.
Here’s why this happens: the human brain naturally functions in bursts of high activity that last about an hour then switches to low activity for a while. It’s during those low-activity periods where you’re best served taking a short break.
Work breaks give your prefrontal cortex—the area of your brain doing goal-oriented work that requires concentration—time to rest. When you come back to work after the break, you’ll return with better:
- Reasoning ability
- Decision-making ability
- Mental wellbeing
The key to successful break-taking is to do something that takes your mind completely off of work (and preferably, away from your desk).
My Favorite Mental Palate Cleansers
I listed my favorite types of breaks below. I like to think of these as mental palate cleansers, like a little bowl of mint sorbet to clear away the residue of my last task so I can come to the next one with a fresh perspective.
- Take a walk: A great option even if I only have a few minutes to spare. Plus, sunshine and fresh air does wonders for my mood!
- Exercise: For a longer break, I get in a good workout, then come back to my desk energized and on an endorphin high.
- Stretch: I concentrate on my neck, shoulders, hips, glutes and hamstrings when I’ve been sitting a lot.
- Meditate: I find a comfy spot, open my meditation app and let calm return.
- Do chores: I know, not very fun, but I find mindless chores like doing the dishes or folding laundry oddly therapeutic.
- Call a friend: Preferably one outside the PR industry.
- Read fiction: Escaping to another world is a great break.
- Play a game: I’ll sometimes play a game on my phone, or a video-game, a cross-word or jigsaw puzzle, or, if anyone else is around, a board-game.
- Watch a TV show: Again, I have no problem with escaping reality for a little while.
- Run an errand: Two birds, one stone–I get out of the office and get something done.
- Listen to a podcast: I just make it non-work-related.
- Eat/drink mindfully: I’ll enjoy an uninterrupted, technology-free meal or beverage.
- Take a power nap: This doesn’t happen often, because I’m usually afraid if I fall asleep I won’t want to wake back up. But, sometimes, if I’m feeling really physically tired, I’ll set a timer for 15 minutes and lie on the couch—sometimes dozing, sometimes just relaxing—until the buzzer dings.
What do you think about work breaks? Do you feel like you take enough throughout the day? What’s your favorite kind of break to take? Share your thoughts in the comments below!